I found this article particularly interesting due to the impact it may have on a historical interpretation of Revelation. I am not familiar with much of the evidence the author uses to support his perspective but I do understand the bottom line. In short the author claims that there was no Domitian persecution of Christians and there is no evidence to support it either. He even goes on to state that early church fathers such as Eusebius wrote “alternative facts” or “fake news” in order to put a spin on the story for their own purposes. If this is indeed true what would that mean about the rest of what they wrote? Could we really trust it? Also how would this affect a historical view of Revelation specifically in regards to the imperial dynasties. Here is the article…….
I have answered this question about the persecution under Domitian already. I am copying and pasting below. This author is really quite biased himself and also not very reliable. For example, he said that Eusebius wrote about the persecution of Domitian more than three hundred years after the events. Well, in fact, he wrote about two hundred twenty-five years later. You can see from this exaggeration that this person is not being careful. He appears to be flinging mud by using such rhetoric as “fake news” and “alternative facts.” This is not fake news and to throw this pejorative term around as an argument shows how biased this person is and that he has an agenda coloring what he writes. Using inflammatory words is not a good way to make a point in a reasoned, rational discussion.
It is true that some have overstated the persecutions of Domitian. We can say confidently that the persecutions in the third and early fourth centuries under were much greater. But then, the Church itself was also much larger and had vastly more influence at this later time. I believe that the evidence that Domitian persecuted the Church is pretty much of a slam dunk, but we must be honest and say that the amount of detailed knowledge of these persecutions is fairly slim and leave it at that.
By the way, about Revelation, I believe that it represents an independent witness to the persecution under Domitian. We should be a bit careful here, as this can become a circular argument when discussing Domitian, but the traditional date for the writing of the book (mid-nineties AD), and the internal evidence, for example in chapter 1 for the exile of John as well as the prophecies concerning the persecution which was, now is not, but will come soon in Revelation 17 argue that this is an additional witness to this persecution. That is, unless someone wants to argue that the book of Revelation itself is a forgery/fake—and that the early church was duped into believing it to be a real document. This seems extremely unlikely to me. It would require some sort of conspiracy to deceive the early church. John’s persecution and exile were common knowledge in the Church in the second century. I do not believe that Revelation alone, if it were the only witness to this persecution, would be sufficient to say it is a slam dunk that Domitian persecuted the church, but when this is added to the other witnesses (Pliny, Melito, Tertullian, Eusebius), the evidence is strong enough that we can say it is virtually proved that this persecution did indeed happen.
By the way, here is a good resource, because it has both a pro and a con essay. The pro essay is the second one, and I believe his argument is very strong. http://bibleworld.com/domper.pdf
The previous Q & A is here:
I read “Daniel, Prophet to the Nations” recently and was quite awestruck by the prophesies! I’ve been reading online that the Christian persecution under Domitian was historically uncertain and debated. Although the early church fathers routinely mention Domitian, the persecution is seemingly absent from the writings of Tacitus and Suetonius (and other Roman historians). I have only an elementary school level knowledge of the Roman empire. How did we get the proof that persecution was widespread under Domitian? Can you point me to more sources on the subject?
Good question. It is true that the evidence outside of Christian sources for the persecution under Domitian is relatively small. It is also true that if it were nor for a single reference by Tacitus, we would have no reference at all to the persecution of the Christians in Rome by Nero, other than Christian references, of course. There is an untold number of events–including rather major events–which occurred during the Roman empire for which we have no surviving record. Many scholars have an extremely, dare I say irrational bias against any historical events recorded in the Bible or in Christian sources. They will accept the slightest evidence from a non-Christian as proof positive that an event happened, but no matter how many Christian sources there are for the persecution under Domitian, they are rejected as irrelevant unless they are also corroborated by a secular source. The problem there is that the most likely group, by far, to report a persecution of the Christians, particularly in the first one hundred years of the church when it was still relatively small, is obviously the Christians. Both Tacitus and Suetonius say relatively little about the Christians, including the persecutions against them, because they were a relatively insignificant group in the first decade of the second century. Yet, both of them definitely report that they were a persecuted and reviled group, which is fully in concord with the Christian description of the persecutions under Domitian. There are numerous Christian sources for the persecution under Domitian, which includes the book of Revelation, of course, which has John on Patmos because of this persecution. Eusebius mentions it, saying it broke out in the fifteenth year of Domitian (AD 96), as do many others. Do these scholars think that all are lying about this? This bias against accepting Christian records of their own persecutions is not a sign of good scholarship, but of extremely unbalanced treatment of the data.
Can we count on the absolute truth of everything Eusebius ever reported? No. He is known for reporting things which may be hearsay. However, both the amount of detail in his account and the number of reliable historical references, both in the New Testament and in early Christian writings to the systematic persecutions under Domitian make it a very secure conclusion that these persecutions did indeed happen. In fact, if you read Pliny the Younger, he is reporting back to Trajan about his arrest of the Christians. He appears to be working under a general prohibition against those who took the name Christian which predated his term of office in Asia Minor. Almost certainly he was working under the order which was put out by Domitian, as reported by Eusebius.
So, you are fully justified in concluding that there was a widespread if not general persecution of the church under Domitian in the last decade of the first century AD.
John Oakes, PhD